READ Center

Patrons used services at the Libbie Mill branch of the Henrico County Public Library. Organizations like the READ Center help adults improve their literacy skills.

“I am a middle-aged woman who struggled with reading and writing for a long time. Although I am a high school graduate, I still have trouble reading. I did not understand how important those two things were until later in life. When I heard about the READ Center I decided to attend. “It has been ten years and I am still attending the READ Center. It has helped me appreciate the value of reading. Without the READ Center I don’t think I would have been able to help my kids get through school. I helped them with tools I’ve learned like basics of phonics, including vowels and sounding out words, breaking down long words and comprehension skills. My kids graduated in the top five of their classes. My daughter has graduated from college with a degree in biology. It did not stop with my own kids. I work with my nieces and nephews too. Two of them have now graduated from college too.” — READ Center Student Johanna

If you want to help children do better in school, invest in adult literacy. The single greatest predictor of children’s educational success is the literacy level of their parents.

In the U.S., more than 36 million adults cannot read or do math at a third-grade level. In Richmond, about 16% of adults lack basic literacy skills while in Henrico County, it’s about 9% and in Chesterfield County, it’s about 8%. This means more than 73,000 adults in our community struggle every day, and their children struggle with them.

The Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond Regional Plan for School Readiness notes that “the foundation for school readiness is laid long before kindergarten. Children begin learning at birth and the quality of their care and environments early in life has a massive impact on the rest of their lives.” Also in the regional plan is the recognition that students who start behind in school often stay behind.

Research shows that focusing on educating children without also addressing their parents’ needs for basic education and training will not solve the academic achievement gap. If parents cannot support their children’s education because of their own educational deficit, books stay in backpacks, homework assignments go unfinished and the cycle of low educational attainment continues.

ProLiteracy reports children of low-literate parents have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels. The National Coalition for Literacy states “children of low-literate parents are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out.”

Adult literacy touches nearly every social issue, including parenting, education, health, housing, employment, workforce development and poverty. To address these issues now and for the long term, we must invest in educating parents and adults in our community.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and The READ Center, an adult literacy program serving the Richmond area for more than 35 years, are raising awareness of the problem and impact of adult literacy during National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, Sept. 22-28.

“I know the importance of having someone in your life who can help you learn how to read,” Stoney said. “For me, like so many others in Richmond, that was my grandmother, Mary — she would sit with me and teach me my ABCs. But, not everyone is so lucky. That is why organizations like The READ Center are so vital — they can help lift people up who need more guidance learning to read, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Adult low literacy hides in plain sight in our community. It is easy to cover up and to ignore. Adults who cannot read well are embarrassed and ashamed. They try to conceal the problem from their families, co-workers and friends and often wait years to get help.

Seventy-six percent of READ Center students read at or below the fifth-grade level. They cannot participate in workforce training or enter GED classes, which require at least grade 6-8 reading levels. They do not have digital skills to access online job applications or information about services.

Adult low literacy is a solvable problem. We know the causes and we know the cure. By helping adults improve their literacy skills, we are helping their children and our community. We are helping to break the cycle of low literacy and poverty to provide hope, new opportunities and change lives.

Think for a moment about how your life would be different if you could not read well. Think what you would have missed and what you would not have achieved. Think about watching your child struggle in school and not being able to help.

Think about READ student Johanna and how improving her literacy skills changed her life and her children’s lives. “I am now a classroom assistant at The READ Center. The READ Center has been a big help to me through the years. Without the center, I don’t know what I would have done.”

There cannot be equality without literacy. The READ Center believes everyone needs and deserves a literate life.

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Karen La Forge is executive director of the READ Center. Contact her at (804) 288-9930 or

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